March 27, 2012

University of Louisville professor examines college alcohol use

Photo courtesy of UniversityofLouisville

Dr. Craig J. McClain is a University of Louisville professor of medicine, pharmacology and toxicology. He was recently appointed to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The department works closely with the U.S. Department of Health and the director of NIAAA. The Louisville Cardinal caught up with Dr. McClain to ask him a few questions pertaining to alcohol safety issues for University of Louisville students.

Q: Why does the number of alcohol-related deaths on college campuses continue to rise?

A: It relates to binge drinking and kind of naive drinking. A lot of college kids pretty much think they’re invincible. When I was that age I probably did too. A lot of high school kids and college kids don’t appreciate the seriousness of getting really drunk… A lot of it is not appreciating the seriousness of the problem and peer pressure with drinking. People basically drink more than they should in some cases because of peer pressure.

Q: How do college students formulate alcoholic tendencies and what can they do to prevent this?

A: There are genetic tendencies to alcoholism. If you have alcoholics in the family you should strongly be concerned about heavy drinking and stay away from alcohol. After that it’s an educational process and understanding that there are huge complications with even modest alcohol consumptions. Most alcohol problems in college and high school are people who have drank too much and driven, then have a bad outcome. If you’re going to drink, responsible drinking is the critical thing. If you’re out with five guys and you’re watching the ball game you need to have a designated driver.

Q: Will your study on deregulated cytokine metabolism play a key role in your research for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism?

A: That research is looking into why people develop liver disease from alcoholism. Now we’re developing treatments to help stabilize the liver disease so it doesn’t get worse. Our goal is to prevent people from having liver transplant or dying.

Q: Are college students more prone to drink because of alcohol advertisement on campus, for examples Sully’s advertising college night outside of the library? Do you think alcohol advertisement on campus should be prohibited?

A: I don’t think prohibition works. I think, again, responsible drinking if you’re going to drink is a critical factor. It would be nice if beverage makers did as much advertising for responsible drinking instead of advertising and getting dumb people to drink. Targeting college and high school students and glamorizing alcohol use is inappropriate. Some beverage makers do contribute to organizations like Alcohol Beverage Foundation, which contributes to alcohol research and education.

Q: I’ve noticed first hand the steps police have taken to reduce drinking and driving at the Province/Bellamy and have been carded and questioned outside of Beverage Warehouse. Is there anything else that campus security/police can do to prevent underage drinking and drunk driving?

A: Police aren’t necessarily the way to do it; education is a better way to do it. There’s only so much financial support to higher police. The issue is cost in our current society. We’re trying to pay less and less, tax wise. In a perfect society, you’d have everything. It would be nice to encourage the makers of alcohol to support that education and that’s what we’re trying to get them to do.

Q: The college environment includes Greek life. Do you believe these organizations promote underage drinking? Do students raise their amount of binge drinking as a result of joining one of these organizations and are there large amounts of reported alcohol poisoning among these groups?

A: They’ve isolated problems in fraternities not on U of L campus where some of the fraternities have actually been shut down from recurrent problems with alcohol poisoning. It’s an issue of peer pressure and overall administration… if its not supported correctly and inappropritely supervised.

Q: Many college students believe it is the social norm to be binge drinking on a normal basis. How can we change this common misconception and make students more aware of the consequences?

A: It’s an important educational thing; they need to realize the consequences from binge drinking. You can develop alcohol poisoning; you can get in a car wreck and kill yourself.

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Photo: Michael Baldwin/The Louisville Cardinal

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